Why we’re sticking with universal masking

Daily case numbers for COVID have dropped dramatically since their peak in the winter.  Hospitals are not overcrowded in near the ways they have been. Between the number of people who have had COVID in recent months and the numbers who have been vaccinated and boostered, there is quite a bit of immunity in our community, and breakthrough cases are statistically much less physically dangerous than cases earlier in the pandemic. 

Once again, we’ve reached a new stage of the pandemic and a new stage for our policies around COVID safety. You can find the full update here.  These changes continue to be driven by the data in our County and the most current science, an awareness of the particular make up of our community and our values.

Recognizing the virus can always throw us curveballs, what we can see from here indicates some good news: singing and shared coffee/tea will likely be a part of our Sunday services throughout the spring and, hopefully, into summer and beyond.  We started singing together last Sunday, and it was glorious! If you weren’t there, I hope you can join us this Sunday as we keep practicing this joyous and regenerating practice we have missed so much the last two years.

We are also moving away from an explicit vaccination requirement as vaccinations are not preventing transmission in the same ways they did with the earlier variants. With this move, we do not mean to imply anything less than full support and encouragement for the vaccine and boosters. They are life-saving and life-improving when it comes to complications from COVID. However, we recognize that they do not make a meaningful difference in community transmission, which is the main thing as a community we have a responsibility to reduce as much as possible. So we want to step out of this conversation (in the same way we don’t ask you about other vaccines) and instead encourage everyone to talk with their health care provider. 

With all that said, the pandemic isn’t over. It is still actively spreading in our community, and we don’t know what any given new variant will mean. This means we continue to keep our focus on protecting the most vulnerable in our community and doing what we can to prevent transmission. Studies show the best way to do this is by either being outdoors in our gatherings or, when indoors, using high-quality air filtration (which you all helped purchase in the fall) and practicing universal masking. 

While much of our wider culture has abandoned universal indoor masking at this moment, we believe this practice continues to be a critical safety strategy for us for two reasons. First, studies show that universal (vs. optional individually-driven) masking makes a critical difference in community transmission. It’s just not as effective if some poeple wear them and others don’t. And second, our congregation is a place where a higher percentage of more vulnerable people seek community and care. Our people are cancer survivors or currently undergoing cancer treatment. Our people have diabetes, and MS and in other ways have compromised immune systems. Our people are older adults – many of us are over 80 and over 90. And our people are also younger kiddos under age five who are still not able to be vaccinated. Because we want to be a place that is as safe as possible for our full community, we will continue to wear masks as a whole community.  

I know that some of us are feeling done with mask-wearing. I totally understand. And I know that this is a value we all hold, and it’s something simple that we can do to keep being the people we want to be.  

Please stay in touch with your questions and thoughts, even if it is totally different than where our current policies have landed. We are learning as we go and trying to do the best we can to stay current and consistent with the science and with our values. The best way to do this is to keep our minds and hearts open and to stay in a mode of ongoing learning and dialogue. 

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